Dreaming Madmen — Ashes Of A Diary
Dreaming Madmen is the project of two brothers, Mathey (vocals, guitars, synthesizer and keyboards, programming) and Christopher (vocals, bass, keyboards) Aboujaoude. Both originally hail from the town of Deir El Harf in Lebanon, but subsequently moved to Austin/Texas and apparently seem to be having their livelihoods alternately in both places for the time being. Ashes Of A Diary is their first release. It is a concept album dealing with an elderly man having found a diary of his, and, whilst going through it, is confronted with memories of love, hatred, pain, obsession, and regret. As mentioned by the authors, some of their personal experiences seem to have been incorporated into the lyrics and the concept.
Additional musicians on the album and for live performances are Ian Geyer (drums, percussion), Rohan Sharma (synthesizer), and Caelin Tralongo (vocals). From what I was able to elicit, as information from the internet presence is a bit scarce (basically just a Facebook-account), both Mathey and Christopher have been fairly active musically since their very young age. Prior to releasing their first album with self-written music, their focus was on their Pink Floyd cover band named Brick Floyd; whereby we have the perfect transition to describing Dreaming Madmen's musical influences and style.
Right from the opening bars of Page One, which sound like a scratched LP-version of Shine One You Crazy Diamond, until the closing of Final Page, the influence and atmosphere of Pink Floyd's music is noticeable.
Such influence is confined to the melodic, not the experimental elements of Floyd's early works (Meddle, Dark Side Of The Moon era). Thus, we are being presented with rich and spacey layers of keyboards, goosebumps-inducing guitar and synthesizer solos (particularly evident in Behind My Wall and Your Possessor, my favourite of the album). Catchy melodies, calm and solemn vocals and crisps bass lines are all underlined by an excellent sound quality and production.
However, Pink Floyd is not the only source of Dreaming Madmen's inspiration. Reminiscences, in my opinion, are to the work of Steven Wilson (albeit on a less sophisticated, but still decently complex level), Alan Parsons (with respect to the vocals), Anathema and Riverside (concerning the slight overall melancholic mood of the music), and, for some of the guitar playing, Lee Abraham. On the other hand, tracks such as Behind My Wall and Enigma, are musically not too far away from some of Dream Theater's more balladesque songs.
This is a release I certainly will revert to regularly in the future. The more I listen to it, the more I like it. Yes, for purists, it may be a bit too "clonish" of Pink Floyd and lacking individuality, but I consider the discussion about "clone or no clone" as being futile. What counts for me is whether the music is appealing or not, and I am prepared to subordinate the degree of individuality and originality to this fact. Dreaming Madmen have delivered a beautifully crafted album, full of enjoyable music; accessible and melodic.
Is the title of the last track hinting at the continuation of Dreaming Madmen's album-releasing intentions? I certainly wouldn't mind meeting them again. Apparently, it took the brothers four years to finalise this project. In part, this was because the composing and recording process was, as the band describes it, logistically complicated, with Christopher and Mathew sometimes shifting back and forth from Austin to Beirut and not always being together at the same place all the time. Please, guys, do us listeners a favour: make sure that we will not be waiting that long until you release your sophomore album!
Rise — Strangers
In the 18 months or so from the release of the wonderful An Abandoned Orchid House, (enthusisatically reviewed by yours truly, here), Jo Beth Young has changed her recording name from Talitha Rise to the singular Rise. And as Rise, she has now released a follow-up album, Strangers. The album takes its inspiration, lyrically, from a phrase of David Gray that "when we meet again, we will be strangers". This informs the characters that Rise weaves through the songs of love and loss on this new album.
As before, the music is prog-folk, laden with ethereal vocals, violin, cello and prog-goth guitar soundscapes. The songs were worked up from piano improvisations in a medieval farmhouse in rural Ireland, then developed with her band into Strangers. So as to retain the organic feel, they did not trouble a studio, thus they come over as modern field recordings. Albeit ones that aim for deep textures and dark atmospherics to illustrate the fundamental melancholy of the whole album.
Unfortunately, this is where I think Strangers comes unstuck. The songs have moments of sheer beauty that match those of the previous release (see the nine minutes of The Old Sewing Woman's Song and the Bob Dylan-like slow waltz of Radio Silence). However there is a preponderance of gentle rhythms, drenched in reverberant acoustic, that has the tendency, no matter how closely I listen, to make the songs bleed into one another.
In aiming for the atmospheric, Rise has let the improvisatory, meandering nature of the process to inform the music a bit too much. The songs on Strangers, though not without intensity, miss the structural development of those on An Abandoned Orchid House.
I admire greatly that Rise has moved on artistically and with a singular vision from the previous album. Unfortunately, and it seems I am in a minority, I find myself unable to engage with the direction that Strangers is taking. My most disappointing listen this year.
Rise Twain — Rise Twain
Rise Twain is the self-titled debut album from a pair of industry veterans from Philadelphia, USA. It is perhaps not a "progressive" album, and is at times wonderfully retro in its influences. But beyond a doubt, this is a mature, beautifully crafted, and astonishingly emotive work of melodic rock.
One half of Rise Twain is Brett William Kull, who is likely familiar to DPRP readers as the guitarist/singer with Echolyn, as well as from his numerous solo albums and collaborations with Ray Weston, Paul Ramsey, Francis Dunnery, and others. While producing the group With The Scenic Route, Kull met songwriter, vocalist, author, and playwright J.D. Beck. Together they created Rise Twain, with the two sharing songwriting and vocals, Beck playing piano, and Kull (presumably) producing and also playing all other instruments other than drums, which are split between Jordan Perlson and John Bicer.
I expected Rise Twain to sound like a typical duo-songwriter album, where it's fairly obvious which artist wrote each song. But the first two tracks immediately show that this is a closer collaboration; from songwriting, all the way through arrangements and recording. I was also very pleasantly surprised that Rise Twain sounds like a well-rehearsed band, and not at all like a two-person studio project.
Everspring opens the album with tension, lurching out of the gate with dissonant, tortured guitar over a strident minor chord. Both singers add lead and harmony vocals on top of a menacing, shuffling waltz. The second track, Golden, quickly bursts into a distorted wah pedal guitar melody, but drops just as suddenly down to piano with interweaving vocal lines. The song builds and falls organically, eventually reaching a piano ending with fading guitar feedback. If listening while driving, I would at this point be turning off cruise control and tightening my seat belt, knowing that this journey is going to have a lot of fun twists and turns.
Kull and Beck's contrasting voices work extremely well together. Kull has a relaxed, natural style, while J.D. Beck has drawn comparisons to Jeff Buckley for his expressive mid-voice and clear, delicate falsetto; the latter of which is best showcased on the haunting ballad Prayers. The first few times through the album, I found Beck's vocal delivery a bit over-the-top, and stumbled over his pronouncing "me" as "may" and "through" as "throw". Eventually, though, I grew to really appreciate his vocals, and when singing along with the album (as it practically demands), I enjoy the challenge of trying to sing as expressively as he does.
There isn't a sub-par track on Rise Twain. After the first two guitar-driven tracks, the album settles into mostly slow- to mid-tempo songs and warmer tones. Layerings of acoustic guitar and piano provide ample space for vocals, and Kull's warm, electric guitar sounds make me think of vintage tube amps, occasionally building into melodic guitar solos. I gasped a bit when Kull, halfway through the intimate The Range, suddenly shifts to a quarter-note Motown rhythm, which Beck responds to with bluesy, soulful singing, and somehow, it just works. Rhythmically, there are a lot of shuffle beats, swinging 8th notes, and 12/8, 6/8, and 3/4 meter, all of which are refreshing to hear in a rock context.
The many layers of this album slowly reveal themselves over time, and even after spending several weeks with it, I'm still discovering new details. The arrangements follow an "everything is a melody" approach, where all elements pull the song forward by being musical individually, rather than being tightly arranged.
The lyrics on Rise Twain evoke strong emotions of compassion, longing, loss, and regret. Perhaps because the words are gently evocative, rather than explicit, I found myself drifting off to thoughts of my own experiences. In particular, listening to Death Of Summer while sitting outside on an early fall evening was quite moving: "You've fallen and there's no coming back". When Beck sings: "It's cold up on the range", the chill is palpable. I don't know exactly what experiences the two wordsmiths are describing in these songs, but there's no mistaking how the songs make you FEEL.
Similar bitter-sweet emotions run throughout the songs, giving the album a thematic feeling, eventually reaching a bit of resolution, or perhaps grace-filled acceptance, on the last two tracks.
Into A Dream steps outside of the personal reflections of the earlier songs, with the two singers singing harmony on lines like: "We are going 'round in a dream". There's a touch of ELO in the choruses, with a nice ascending half-step bass line, and then a playful shift into swirling Queen or Beach Boys harmonies that seems to say that however tightly we try to hold on to things in life, they are, or will eventually be, beyond our grasp.
That Is Love closes the album with Kull repeating the title phrase in a heartfelt tone that demands interpreting "love" in a broad, spiritual sense, reminiscent of the sentiments behind George Harrison songs such as Love Comes to Everyone and This Is Love. Rise Twain reminds us that Love "waits to be found", "is dangerous", "is a fortress", and "is a prison".
The outpouring of emotions from Rise Twain is so raw that I feel like these two artists probably found a catharsis in their collaboration. While absorbing this album, I needed to hear some of the tracks one at a time and give each some time to settle.
This is easily one of my favourite albums of the year.
RPWL — Live From Outer Space
CD 2: Hole In The Sky (7:14), Sleep (9:14), Masters Of War (5:59), Trying To Kiss The Sun (5:05), Roses (7:08), Unchain The Earth (7:43)
German band RPWL are certainly not adverse to documenting their live tours, as Live From Outer Space is their eighth live album, five of which have been double albums. Pretty good, considering they have released the same number of studio albums. Not that there is anything wrong with that; they are a very good live band and are able to replicate the studio counterparts faithfully.
As may be deduced from the latest live album's title, it was recorded on the tour supporting the 2018 album Tales From Outer Space. The four musicians who created that delightful release: Yogi Lang (vocals and keyboards), Kalle Wallner (guitars, bass and backing vocals), Markus Jehle (keyboards) and Marc Turiaux (drums), are supported on this live release by Sebastian Harnack (bass and bass pedals), as obviously it is impossible for Wallner to play both simultaneously on stage.
The first CD of the set is the entire Tales From Outer Space album. Most of the live versions are slightly extended compared with their studio counterparts, with Light Of the World in particular featuring some very nice additions from Wallner. Not Our Place To Be lacks a certain dynamism and falls a bit flat, and I miss the female backing vocalists on What I Really Need, although it remains a truly great song. Incidentally, both this track and the closer Far Away From Home, feature no embellishments and stick to the structures of the studio versions.
The second CD comprises of mostly tried-and-trusted fan favourites, to the extent that only one track, Masters Of War, has not appeared on a previous live album. Of the other five songs, four have appeared on at least two other live albums, and if you are a fan of the song Roses, well this is an opportunity to add a fifth live rendition to your collection!
One would have thought this would have been an opportunity to diversify the track listing somewhat and be somewhat more adventurous, although I suppose a sizeable chunk of their songs have appeared on one live album or another at some point? Despite this overlap, there is no question that the songs are played with gusto and there are inevitably some differences in the performances, although I admit that I have not undertaken direct comparisons between each of the recordings.
On the whole, Live From Outer Space is a decent live album and nice memento of the tour. However, it is no doubt targeted at the devout fan base, as newcomers would be advised to opt for the studio versions, particularly in the case for the Tales From Outer Space album, where it would be difficult for any live performance to better the studio recordings.
Temple Renegade — The All Is None
Temple Renegade is a four-piece alternative rock/metal band hailing from The Hague, drawing on influences from the likes of Karnivool, Gojira, Leprous, Tool and Soen.
The band was called into life by Sven Mundorf and Jerome Hussin 2014 and was dabbling with heavy rock sounds in its fledgling days. Drum reinforcement was soon to be found by Sander van Elferen, who has since been spearheading the band's rhythmic adventures. The hunt for a bassist went through a few iterations before Angel Lopez turned out to be a keeper. Since then, the band's sound started moving away from its rock roots and started to lean more toward metal.
Between 2014 and 2017, Temple Renegade have released four EPs (three studio and one live) and toured across their homeland plus gigs in France and the UK. They have served a good apprenticeship before writing and recording their debut full length album, The All Is None.
You can hear the Karnivool, Tool, and Gojira influences from the opening track. The opening guitar is from the staggering, brutal riffage of France's finest. The vocals and swirling guitar in the calm verse is pure Karnivool. The angrier chorus is lifted from the Maynard song book. A constant drift between time signatures and strong hooks make it an impressive opening statement. Its dark tone is one that ties this album together.
Somewhere The Vulture takes a similar approach. The opening and closing riff is again pure Gojira but the riffing has a more thrash approach à la early Metallica. The atmospheric vocal section reminds me of a host of Aussie alt-rock bands especially Cog. The gang-style vocals don't work, but this is is another strong song.
A Fistful Of Sand sits closer to Karnivool and Soen with some more Metallica riffing. The arrival of the bright, pulsating chorus, the tribal drum section and the more ambitious complexity to the song-writing, makes this one of my favourite tracks and it is well placed in the middle of the album. As is the pause of breath in the more balladic sections of the lyric-free Quelia. The guitar playing here is lovely.
With its roots in the NWOBHM, Fallout is out of place and too simplistic. Ghost Of Goliath is also more simplistic, but saved by a nice Gojira riff and catchy hook. I am guessing that these two are earlier compositions from the band's rock beginnings?
On Harbinger, the monstrous riffing is not matched by the vocalist, where he seems to be trying a different key and style. Whereas on the breakneck-paced Deadman the two are in perfect harmony, bringing the album to an impressive climax.
Overall this is an impressive debut that has been a pleasant surprise. As an independent release it's not in possession of the most sparkling production I've heard this year. The singer in particular suffers from a rather shallow, thin production (most evident on Voynich's Last Dream). I'd also like to hear more passion and vocal control, to deliver his clear potential. Sometimes, as on the otherwise impressive The Silent Hand, it sounds as if he is reading, as opposed to re-living, the lyrics.
This appears to be a digital-only release at this point, but as it is one of those "name your price" affairs, then why not head over to Bandcamp and support a very promising young Dutch band.
The Treat — Global Warming/The Good Earth
Oxford trio The Treat have delivered a big barrel of musical ideas with their latest release, their fifth outing since their formation in 2001 and the first for several years.
Global Warming/The Good Earth is a bold, conceptual, eclectic mix of ideas and songs over two albums, coherent in its wholesale dip into the late 60s and early 70s. Taking the sounds of the era and interspersing them with snippets of instrumental experimentation, there is on first glance a scattergun approach to the writing that the band have presented. Nonetheless there is an endearing eccentricity to the project, and whilst the music may seem to be a relic of the past to some, there are few bands today that are tapping into the spirit of the post-Woodstock vibe in the way that The Treat are here.
Opening with a throaty Mongolian thrum, you may be forgiven for thinking there is a WOMAD world music direction ahead. However as the title track begins, the punch of early 70s Deep Purple leads the way. Think centre-parting, loon pants and big sideburns.
It's all nice and pacy and tightly executed, with a strong rhythmic backbone. Hammond punches its way in and out, weaving excitedly with the guitar from founder Mike Hyder. There are some skills here on offer and it's not without its capability to be infectious. However don't sit back with an idea you have a measure of this band from here on in.
Shifting into a late sixties, summer of love hippiness, This Season's Colours is pop-tastic fun with its floaty flute and strings melody, juxtaposed with modern themes of the impact of identity and fickle market trends. The multi-layered production here is a gem, and a self-produced triumph. Add to this Flowers as its logical sibling.
The strutting platform glam of The Animal's Rights is both serious and tongue-in-cheek, with a Bryan Ferry delivery with hints of Iron Butterfly from Hyder. You can't help but smile at the spirit of it.
The essence of the album's constant shifting through styles is matched by Hyder's versatility as a vocalist moving from the Neil Young-flavoured Down in The Flood, to David Byrne in This Heat.
There is a settling of direction on the second half in The Good Earth, which brings a more unified consistency to the mixture. Settling for a (mostly) Floyd-influenced style, it touches the seventies' supergiants quite obviously with some hints of Rush and some Celtic whistle on For All Seasons (part 1) - Spring's Beginning.
Of all the material on the second disk, All Season (part 2) - Summers Joy is where it jumps unexpectedly into a punky, John Lydon splinter. The infusion of stripped back, snarly guitar and drums comes out of nowhere and makes for a wondrous bit of ambitious writing.
Undermining this moment of invention however is Part 3 - Autumn's Reflection. Whether it is a deliberate homage to Echoes from Meddle is uncertain, but the similarities are fairly blatant. The guitar layering in the middle does a good job of faintly evoking Oldfield quite irresistibly however.
Overall, The Good Earth is an enjoyable, focused album which harks back to the mid-70s classic rock in a way that provides a blast of nostalgia, albeit with some freshness dotted throughout.
On reflection both albums are an accomplished duo, packed solidly with some well-crafted songs and themes, and with a production that belies its home-brew status. What they do lack is enough of their own voice to really showcase their talents, without the distraction of being perceived as a pastiche. Give it a go though. It may not be original, but it has appeal and songs that get stuck in your head.